I pulled off of a gravel road and into my campsite just as the sun started to sink behind the tall pine trees to the west of me. As it was so late in the day, I hurried to get my tent set up before the sun was completely down. It isn't that I couldn't set up my tent with a headlamp and lantern, but the threat of rain was in the forecast and I didn't want to set up a tent in the dark during a downpour.
I did, however, take the time to light my sterno stove to get dinner heating as I worked on the tent. In fact, dinner was just heated as I finished the tent and got ready for an evening spent among the trees of Prestine Pines Campground, a hipcamp I had recently found.
What is Hipcamp?
Hipcamp is a website (and app) that provides a variety of campsites for rent around the country. Think of it as air b-n-b for campgrounds. I had recently signed up on the app and was eager to find my first hipcamp. Prestine Pines, which is located about fifteen minutes from Searcy, Arkansas, seemed like the perfect choice.
I chose Prestine Pines because I travel, back and forth, the length of Interstate 40 across Arkansas twice each month, and the proximity of Searcy to 40 isn't too bad. In fact, anytime I have an excuse to cut over to highway 64 or any other back road highway is a great thing to me. It is nice to slow down, enjoy the drive, and see the farms, wooded areas, and small towns I pass.
Prestine Pines is a primitive campsite in the opening of grove of pine trees not far from a field of cattle. While it is a little close to a main road (I could hear some traffic as I settled into my tent), you do feel alone in a peaceful environment. The site can host up to four people (although I go solo). It is set up for campfires and has wood for burning (that I didn't use since it is August and I brought my d.i.y. sterno stove to cook with). You will get a cell signal at Prestine Pines. You are provided a 5 gallon bucket toilet, however, you will have to pack out your waste and garbage.
After dinner, I settled into my tent with a book, relaxed, and finally fell asleep waiting for the rain to wake me up. Instead, I woke up to my alarm. The rain didn't happen, so I set the sterno stove back up, made some coffee, and watched the sun rise above the trees.
I've been thinking of riding the entire 36 mile Razorback Greenway trail from Lake Bella Vista to Fayetteville since I first rode the Lake Bella Vista Trail several years ago. And I'd made a few five mile trips from the lake to Crystal Bridges over the years since then, but I'd never gone beyond that trek.
So, I decided to explore some more of the Razorback Greenway on a longboard.
I started just after dawn. The fog was still moving along the surface of the lake as I kicked and began coasting along the trail. The Razorback Greenway into Bentonville, passing by Crystal Bridges, is a long, winding trail full of hills some of which were far to much for me on a longboard. Just before Crystal Bridges, I was forced to pick up my longboard and walk, the hill too steep to keep any momentum while pushing.
But, once into downtown Bentonville, the land levels out and I was able to push through, even making my way to an underground tunnel.
The south Bentonville portion of the trail, however, was a little on the lackluster side of things. The trail butts up against 14th street leading into I-49 and the border to Rogers about 7 1/2 miles into my journey), where I decided to turn around and head back to Bella Vista. In all honesty, I wasn't even sure if I was still on the trail anymore. It was basically a sidewalk along a very busy 14th street, and the sidewalk was full of pebbles. I wasn't sure how long the trail remained like that, so I decided to head back.
The high points of the trail from Lake Bella Vista to Rogers happen around Crystal Bridges (the amazing art museum of Northwest Arkansas). You'll see statues, greenery, possibly even wildlife along the trail at that point.
My favorite stopping point along this portion of trail is a monument of sorts called, "A Place Where They Cried," which commemorates the hardships of American Indians forced to migrate west across Arkansas. According to the signage next to the monument, the installation is nearly two miles south of one of the Trail of Tears routes.
I'm planning on picking up the trail from Rogers on my next Razorback Greenway ride.
For all my affinity for Stoby's of Russellville, I have to admit I'd never been to the sister restaurant in Conway until recently. Honestly, I have always been a little nervous about the Conway location. It isn't that I thought the food wouldn't live up to expectations, and it isn't that I thought I'd have a bad experience. It is because Stoby's Russellville has such an original vibe/look that, in my mind, I felt like any other Stoby's just wouldn't have the same je ne 'est quoi.
The memories from being a long-time Stoby's of Russellville customer and employee don't make it easy to accept something other than "my Stoby's" as Stoby's. So much of my college (and grad school) life was centered around the restaurant. I was there very nearly every breakfast and lunch during the week and every dinner on Saturday night for a long time. I bonded with several of my dearest life-long friends in that train car on D street. One of those friends even officiated my wedding fifteen years later. As you can see, that train car and depot mean a lot to me. A lot more than a bowl of cheese dip and a pita sandwich ever could.
All of that said, one of the great things about food is that it has the distinct ability to bring a wave of memory and nostalgia with a single bite: One single bite of tortilla chip dipped in Stoby's Cheese dip.
Just like that, I was "home again" back to a time when life was more simple and the future was wide open.
I'm happy to say that I'm now almost as big of a fan of Stoby's Conway as of Stoby's Russellville. The recently revamped Conway location (it had been destroyed in a fire in 2015) does the food to the same specs as Russvegas with the same friendly, quick service. Over the course of my two weeks in Conway, I had my go to Stoby Sandwich (with turkey, summer sausage, salami, Cheddar, and Pepper Jack in a pita), the Philly cheese-steak (a more recent addition to the menu but absolutely delicious), and a Petit Jean pepper bacon burger. I also got to check out the nachos, and they looked amazing.
I'm debating to go with nachos or back to the Stoby Sandwich for my next visit. But what about the pita taco? It has been far too long since I've had a pita taco. The decisions!!!!
From my visits to the Conway location, the pepper bacon burger was my least favorite meal. While technically sound with a thick patty, fresh bun, and delicious Pettit Jean pepper bacon, the burger just didn't quite live up to the Philly or the Stoby. This is one of those times when nothing is wrong with the dish, but it just isn't on the same level. And that level is high.
The Stoby, like I mentioned before, is a classic. It is the sandwich that launched the business. Three meats of your choice, two cheeses cheeses of your choice, lettuce, tomato, Stoby sauce, and your choice of bread. Basically you build your own sandwich to your specifications. Want all turkey and American? Do all turkey and American.
The Stoby's Philly is my favorite cheesesteak of all time. Served with onions and peppers (of course) and topped with the spicy white version of Stoby's cheese dip and a side of crispy fries, the Philly is a hot, ooey gooey cheese and meat mess stuffed inside a soft bun. So good.
The Conway location is at 805 Donaghey Ave, Conway, AR 72034
When I pulled my longboard from the trunk of my car, I knew I was going to get some odd looks. While longboards are common on the sidewalks of Fayetteville, the quiet trails of Bella Vista have a different culture with a very different demographic. I walked from my car toward the beginning of the trail, smiled at an elderly couple with their dog, and strapped my helmet on my head. With a dull thud I dropped my longboard wheels down onto the pavement, and pushed off to make my way around the trail.
Northwest Arkansas is absolutely beautiful, and my favorite way to enjoy scenic, natural beauty is to skate right through it as fast as my legs and four urethane wheels will let me. I am a skateboarder. I ride skate parks, parking lots, trails. and anywhere else I can. Each different terrain requires different skills and equipment, and I have made a life out of learning all of them. Riding on trails or highways for hours on end is appropriately (and obviously) called distance skating.
Distance skating has been gaining popularity over the last decade, but has been happening since the early 80’s when Jack Smith decided to skateboard across the country to raise money and awareness for multiple sclerosis. Participants don’t need to learn any special tricks which makes it easily accessible for people that don’t have the desire to spend hours mastering extra fancy footwork or learn to ride up the side of a ramp but still want to roll around. I’ve ridden full and half marathon distances on my skateboard, and I can tell you from firsthand experience, it is some serious cardio.
Lake Bella Vista Trail runs parallel to highway 71 (at the end of Interstate 49) and hosts a 1.7 mile circular paved trail that also connects to the Razorback Regional Greenway, 36 miles of connected paved trails that run from Bella Vista to Fayetteville. It is surrounded on all sides by either trees, grass, or water, and on a weekday afternoon it was sparsely populated with walkers and bikers so I didn't have to weave in and out of traffic.
As I made my way around the course I nodded to the people that I passed and got some interesting looks when they realized that guy was skateboarding around the lake, but none felt judgmental or damning. It was more just a little surprise, and maybe kind of happy to see I was wearing a helmet as I rode. In fact, the people of Bella Vista have been very kind to me, welcoming me to town with smiles, waves, and handshakes.
Also of note at Lake Bella Vista (which, I’m told, is technically in Bentonville) is a disc golf course, playground, and picnic tables. However, nothing here really compares to the Veterans Wall of Honor. This beautiful monument holds the names of over 4,000 soldiers who served our country. The sheer number of plaques in this circular monument coupled with the serene fountain in the center and lush greenery around it makes the monument a sublime place to visit and ponder. This is worth visiting whether you take on the trails or not.
Anyway, back to my skate. I rode the loop, enjoyed the view, and worked up a nice sweat. And it got me thinking. The short skate around the lake was fun, but I’m really starting to think about that 36 mile trail from Bella Vista to Fayetteville. It would be my longest ride to date, and it sounds super fun.
Growing up in Russellville, I never really thought about the train depot. It was a dark, lifeless building next to downtown which was almost equally lifeless (except for a record store, music shop, and C & D Drugstore). This was great for us skateboarders. We'd ride around Russellville, making good use of the sidewalks and curbs.
Later, however, after the town took over the depot in 1999, it became the center of the downtown revitalization movement. What a difference a decade or two can make. Not only is downtown a hub of new area businesses, the train depot has become the centerpiece of the town as it now hosts the Main Street Russellville office. The depot has a great museum look and walking inside feels as if you're stepping back in time. It is a wonderful space for event rentals. In fact, my wife and I used this space for our wedding reception in 2015.
The space worked very well for our casual wedding reception. Not big enough to hold hundreds, making use of outside spaces gave our guests enough room to escape music, casually talk, and enjoy enjoy each other's company.
For more information about the Russellville Train Depot go to www.mainstreetrussellville.com/depot-district.html
Photos by Jenkins
David Thornton is a two time national award winning writer, chef, husband, father, and fitness enthusiast.